Ouray, Colorado

On the walk from the campground into town, Ouray, Colorado.

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One of my favorite things about traveling with a map (instead of relying on GPS) is the people you meet.

Let me explain. On pretty much every trip, there has been a point where we pull over in some tiny little town, put the map on the hood of the truck, and say, “ok, so here we are. What are our options from this point?” Inevitably, a local pulls up. First, noticing the two Airstreams on the side of the road, then noticing us pouring over the map. The local then proceeds to give us all the insider knowledge of the area. “Sure, you can go that way, but the road is closed in 50 miles, so be prepared for traffic…” or “Heading west will take you to a town with hot springs, but heading north-east will get you closer to a river valley with a great state park.” That kind of knowledge. Over the years, maps have opened so many doors for us.

The lovely little town of Ouray, Colorado.

In fact, I remember a time when I was studying abroad in Austria. One weekend, my roommate and I decided to go to Innsbruck for the weekend for a little sightseeing excursion. Once we arrived in Innsbruck, we were having trouble finding our way to our hostel. I had been living and studying in Europe for a while up to that point, but my roommate had not, so my initial suggestion was to hitchhike and when we were picked up, have the local take us there. My roommate was a little appalled by this idea, so instead, we pulled out our map and while we were attempting to get our bearings, an elderly gentleman pulled up and asked us if we needed a ride. I don’t remember what I said to my friend to convince her that we should take him up on his offer, but accept we did. He not only gave us a ride to our hostel, but showed us a few sights along the way (mainly the facilities from when the Winter Olympics were held in Innsbruck). Before we parted ways, he told us that his son was studying in the States, and the reason he offered us a ride was because he hoped that people in the States would show his son the same kindness. I immediately thought (and may have said), “well, if he’s in Mississippi and meets my parents, they’ll take him in and feed him!”

All that to say, I’ve definitely met interesting people, and seen interesting places, all because a local saw me pull out a map.

So, when our trip last summer became rearranged–first stymied by the oppressive heat, then by raging wildfires–we once again found ourselves relying on the advice of locals and even other campers at our campground who were more knowledgable about the area than we. We had made some new friends at a campground in northern New Mexico, and when we told them we needed to go someplace to get out of the heat, they told us about Priest Gulch Campground near Dolores, Colorado, where they were headed next. Since all the kids were having such a good time, we asked if they would mind if we also headed to the same campground for a couple of days while we decided where to go next. They said “come on!”, so we did. After a few days with them at Priest Gulch, we were preparing to part ways, for good this time, and they told us about a little town called Ouray, where there are hot springs. When we looked on the map and realized that Ouray wasn’t far from either where we were or the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, we decided to give it, and it’s hot springs, a try.

Ouray, Colorado, has been called “the Switzerland of America.” As someone who has visited both places, I can say that this is an accurate description. Ouray is a charming little mountain town, and we ooh’ed and aah’ed our way through downtown in search of the hot springs. We didn’t have to search for long! Hot springs are one of the things that Ouray is known for, and while there are several options for developed hot springs, we decided to stop at the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. Ouray, apparently, is also known for ice wall climbing, and I can imagine that after a day of that activity, the hot springs would be an excellent way to unwind. But, we were there in June (and we are not ice climbers), and still found the springs a refreshing activity. The Ouray Hot Springs Pool offers several naturally fed and filtered pools, each with varying degrees of temperature, as well as a few pools that aren’t heated at all. Let me just tell you, while June in Mississippi may give you tepid (or warm) pool water, Colorado pool water in June is cold. After we tested those waters, we opted to stay in the warmer pools.

Ouray is definitely one of those places where you’ll need a range of clothing options. Chacos and swimsuits for the hot springs, but a nice light jacket or fleece to wear to dinner. Traveling with the Airstream allows us to pack for a range of weather conditions.

Ready to “test the waters” at the hot springs!

After we left the pools, it was late in the afternoon and we decided to stay in Ouray for the night. The 4J+1+1 RV Park had a vacancy and suited our needs (just a one night stay) perfectly. The campground is very clean, with level spots, and has showers, propane, laundry facilities, and many other amenities. The campground is just a couple of blocks of the “main drag” of town, so we walked to dinner (and then ice cream!) and window-shopped along the way.

Looking back, I wish we had stayed in Ouray longer. There is a hike that will take you to a waterfall, which is something that I would have enjoyed. The town is impeccably clean, the stores are unique, varied, and nice, and the locals are friendly.

Have you ever been to Ouray? What recommendations would you suggest? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

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